Mail Order Cowboy

Saving Christmas
by Pamela Bauer
(Harl. American # 803, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-16803-9
Christmas, Minnesota, is about to cease being a dot on the map. The tiny town's bills are unpaid, most of the businesses have been forced to move away, the school has consolidated with one in a neighboring town, and on December 31st, Christmas will disincorporate. Unless the residents can come up with a plan for Saving Christmas.

Sara Richards had no intention of being the chair of the committee to save Christmas from extinction. A former costume designer for a Broadway touring company, she is back home to nurse a wounded heart fresh from a divorce. Her bank account is in rigor mortis, thanks to her avaricious ex. Sara has returned to Christmas to figure out her future, and before she knows it, she's in charge of turning Christmas into a Victorian Village as a holiday tourist attraction.

Joe Gibson never wanted to return to Christmas in the first place. He shook the snowflakes off his shoes ten years ago and left for California and college, putting behind him the small town where he always felt like a stranger and the pretty prom queen he had once kidnapped for a night. Sara Richards had been nothing more than a high school infatuation, he vows. Now widowed, Joe and his eight-year-old daughter have returned to town to take his mother back to California for the holidays. The only problem is, Mom won't leave and little Nikki loves it in Christmas. When Nikki and Sara meet and instantly click, Joe feels his life start to spin out of control.

Sara is determined to keep Joe at arm's length. He's the guy who stole her away from the prom for a night of dancing and strawberry wine in a dark bar, only to leave for good and never contact her. Joe is sure that Sara is just as small-minded as all the other people in Christmas. After all, she refused to dump her stodgy boyfriend for him after their night together, even though she promised to do so. Both are about to change their minds.

Saving Christmas avoids the "Holiday Cuteness" trap with characters that are lively and realistic. Sara's suspiciousness of Joe's motives, Joe's conviction that Sara and the residents of Christmas are wasting their time trying to save a dying town, Nikki's exasperation with her dad who doesn't see how great it is here, and the meddling townsfolk all fit together like pieces of a puzzle. As a lifelong resident of a state that boasts not only a Christmas, but also a Hell, Bliss, and Paradise, the oddball name felt right at home, and the workings of a tiny town way up north in winter were dead on. One can never know when a sudden storm will throw a monkey wrench into any and all plans.

Sara and Joe never address their reasons for their actions ten years ago, which bothered me a bit. Why didn't he contact her? And why did Sara hang on to her boring boyfriend? I wanted to know. At times the holiday references seemed a bit forced, but not enough to detract much from what is ultimately a fun and enjoyable tale. Saving Christmas might save you from the holiday reading blahs. I recommend it.

--Cathy Sova

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